MVA in trouble, 30 Sena MLAs rebel

Shinde, along with his supporter MLAs who are believed to be nearly 30, has been camping in a five-star hotel at Surat

Mumbai: Maharashtra witnessed a big political earthquake on Tuesday as senior Shiv Sena leader and cabinet minister Eknath Shinde, along with supporter MLAs, rebelled against chief minister and party chief Uddhav Thackeray. The rebellion is likely to lead to a vertical split in the Shiv Sena, pushing the tri-party Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state into a major crisis.

Mr Shinde, along with his supporter MLAs who are believed to be nearly 30, has been camping in a five-star hotel at Surat in the neighbouring BJP-ruled state Gujarat. To pacify him and rebel MLAs, Mr Thackeray sent two of his trusted aides -- Milind Narvekar and Ravindra Phatak -- to Surat. However, Mr Shinde, sticking to his guns, has reportedly spurned their overtures.

According to sources, Mr Shinde has expressed his annoyance at continuing in the MVA government with Sena’s other two allies – the NCP and the Congress. He has called for the formation of a government by reuniting with Sena's former partner, the BJP, along Hindutva lines.

Indicating his stand, Mr Shinde tweeted that he is a part of "Balasaheb’s staunch Shiv Sainiks" and that he "will never cheat for power". "We are Balasaheb’s staunch Shiv Sainiks… Balasaheb has taught us Hindutva. We have never and will never cheat for power regarding Balasaheb’s thoughts and Dharmaveer Anand Dighe Saheb’s teachings," he said.

The Shiv Sena has 55 MLAs in the 288-member Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. If Mr Shinde manages to keep the supporting MLAs at his side till the end, the MVA government is likely to lose its majority. It will possibly trigger the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in the state. The government needs the support of at least 145 MLAs. Congress has 44 MLAs, while the NCP has 53. The total strength of the three ruling parties is 152.

Out of 29 independent and smaller parties MLAs, at least 17 had voted for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha and legislative council elections held this month.

Union minister and BJP leader Narayan Rane has demanded the resignation of Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that he lacked the support of sufficient MLAs in the Assembly.

"Because of Mr Shinde's move, Uddhav Thackeray does not have the support of sufficient MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha. He should tender his resignation," Mr Rane demanded.

However, other BJP leaders distanced their party from the political crisis. "The BJP has nothing to do with the ongoing developments in the Shiv Sena. Mr Shinde's decision is not part of any game plan of the BJP," said state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil.

The dramatic developments took place just a day after the Opposition BJP scored an emphatic win in the Vidhan Parishad polls on Monday. The Shiv Sena-led MVA alliance suffered a setback in the polls as it could win only five of the six seats it contested.

On the same night, Mr Shinde, along with some Shiv Sena MLAs, went incommunicado, sending alarm bells in the Sena camp. Mr Thackeray held a meeting at his official residence on Tuesday morning, which was reportedly attended by only 15 to 20 MLAs. After it became clear that Mr Shinde has rebelled, Shiv Sena moved swiftly to remove him as a party group leader and installed loyalist MLA Ajay Chaudhary on the post.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, the chief architect of the MVA alliance, termed the issue an "internal matter" of Shiv Sena. "This is the third instance when someone has tried to destabilise the government and it may not succeed. Looking at the situation, I think we will find out some solution," said Mr Pawar.

The Congress, on their part, denied reports that some of the Congress legislators have also become "not reachable". In the wake of the Maharashtra political crisis, the Congress high command deputed senior Congress leader Kamal Nath as AICC (All India Congress Committee) observer for the state.

At least seven Congress MLAs had voted for the BJP candidate, resulting in the defeat of party candidate Chandrakant Handore. According to the sources, the party had decided to give 29 first preference votes to Mr Handore. But Mr Hondore received only 22 votes.

According to media reports, some Congress MLAs are also incommunicado.

In a tweet, the party's state chief spokesperson Atul Londhe said that all party MLAs are in contact with the state Congress chief Nana Patole and CLP (Congress Legislative Party) leader Balasaheb Thorat.

Mr Patole said that his party was closely monitoring the present political situation in the state. The MVA government is stable in Maharashtra.

A senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity, said that, considering the result, the party convened a meeting of all the MLAs at revenue minister Mr Thorat’s residence. "Maharashtra Congress in-charge H.K. Patil is meeting personally with each MLA and hearing out their grievances," he said.

Mr Nath will also hold a meeting with party MLAs in Mumbai on Wednesday.

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